Maidstone United boss out to make Emirates FA Cup history against MK Dons on Saturday

Friday 01 Dec 2017
Jay Saunders blending youth and experience at Maidstone United

At the age of just 38, Jay Saunders is currently the fourth longest-serving manager in the top five divisions of English football and this weekend, he attempts to lead his side to a second successive giant-killing in the Emirates FA Cup.

The Stones, currently tenth in the National League, won 4-2 at League Two Cheltenham Town in the first round earlier this month and on Saturday, they travel to Buckinghamshire to chance their aim against League One outfit MK Dons in the second round.

Only Arsenal chief Arsene Wenger, Exeter boss Paul Tisdale and Sutton United manager Paul Doswell have been in charge of their clubs longer than Saunders, the former midfielder becoming Maidstone’s player-manager six years and nine months ago in March 2011.

MK Dons vs Maidstone United
  • The Emirates FA Cup
  • Second Round Proper
  • 3pm, Saturday 2 December
  • Stadium MK
  • By Dan Barnes
Saunders, who holds his FA Level 3 (UEFA B) coaching qualification, talks us through how he developed into the manager he is today.

“Going back to my youth team days at Gillingham, when I was 16 or 17, we used to have to do a bit of coaching with the junior lads, and that got me involved in it.

"As I got towards the end of my playing career, I did my Level 2 coaching badge locally at Bearsted Football Club and that was just as I was starting as a player-manager.

"I enjoyed that and it was obviously a path I’d gone down, so I had to get involved in the coaching. 

"Once I’d taken the manager’s job, I started coaching at the academy – we’ve got a big academy at Maidstone – and that was when I applied for my UEFA B licence and it’s just gone from there, really.

"At the time, Alan Walker (former Stones manager) was working for the Kent FA, so he guided me in the right direction.

"Jamie Coyle, who’s the Welling United manager now, was a player-coach for me, and he now tutors the B licence for The FA, so I had people around me that knew the right paths and where to go, and could advise me.

"I’m only 38, so it seems quite strange that I’m one of the longest-serving managers because I’m a bit younger than Arsene Wenger, Paul Tisdale at Exeter and Paul Doswell, who I know well.

"You don’t stop learning. You keep learning and it’s important that the coaching courses give you that grounding but there’s nothing like being involved in it and learning day-to-day.

"I often get asked now about courses. At our academy, we put our lads through the Level 2, which is great.

"In the summer, the only time you get off, you try to get away with your family and have a holiday but I am going to try and get on the UEFA A licence because it’s important."

Naturally, Saunders cannot wait to attempt to upset the apple cart at Stadium MK on Saturday.

“It’s a lovely stadium to go to. It’s a stadium a lot of us haven’t been to before and I think we’ll take good support there.

"Obviously, you’re 90 minutes away from playing a Premier League club. The third round, it’s what’s all non-League clubs dream about, pulling out a big boy like Sutton and Lincoln managed to do last year.

"I’m not saying that we’re going to do it but we’re certainly going to give it our best shot.

"We went to Cheltenham and I don’t think a lot of people fancied us there.

"I think it’s another test again and let’s be honest – if they’re on their game, it’s going to be very tough for us but the FA Cup’s all about upsets, isn’t it?”

By FA Staff